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Open Letter: Heritage Bill is bad news for environment

Open Letter: Heritage Bill is bad news for environment

30th May 2017

Open Letter

Dear Sir

In the last two months thousands of hectares of our natural heritage has gone up in smoke as heather and gorse were burnt illegally on our mountains, hills and bogs. These fires undoubtedly destroyed the nests and food stores of birds and other wildlife but they also destroyed the home of one family, destroyed millions of Euro worth of forestry, impacted on air quality and undermined the green image on which Ireland’s tourism and food industry relies. Yet, the government wants to extend the existing period for burning to include March as presented in the Heritage Bill which will be debated in Dáil Éireann for the first time today since its passage through the Seanad.

Introduced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, the amended Heritage Bill would also roll back 17 years of protection for our roadside hedgerows threatening these unique landscape features and wildlife corridors. Nor will the burning extension stop the out-of-control fires witnessed daily in April and May. The myriad and complex issues relating to why these fires are set require long-term solutions. Hill farming may soon be as rare as many of our upland birds. We need a comprehensive and resourced strategy to protect both and not poor piecemeal legislation.

Years of chronic underinvestment in our natural heritage, in the State agencies charged with its protection and perverse policy conflicts has resulted in declining populations of many of our species of birds, pollinators and mammals alike, key indicators of the health of our environment with some teetering on the brink of extinction. The Heritage Bill is a manifestation of the government’s poor record of protecting our natural heritage and its failure to listen to a large cohort of people who value this heritage. But it wasn’t always so.

The 1999 Oireachtas debates on the Wildlife Amendment Act, which set the current dates for hedge cutting and burning, are extraordinary. Many speakers from different parties, including the then opposition TD Enda Kenny, welcomed the Wildlife Act amendments and railed against the ‘environmental savagery’ of some hedge cutting insisting that strong regulation needed to be in place to ensure road safety was addressed along with wildlife protection. Although imperfect and often under-enforced these Wildlife Act amendments ensured a good framework to protect breeding birds. But now the current Government is rowing back on this protection signifying how much it has lost its way in terms of valuing our natural heritage. Perplexingly, it is also ignoring the tens of thousands of people calling for more nature protection and not less.

Over 29,000 people and growing have signed a petition saying No to the Heritage Bill. These people and the members, branches and associations of the signatories to this letter spanning rural and urban Ireland will be listening intently to today’s Dáil debate and looking forward to hearing expressions of passion, care and concern for nature from the current generation of public representatives and more importantly seeing action in reversing this anti-Heritage legislation.

Today we call on all TDs to oppose this flawed Bill and to safeguard and invest in Ireland’s precious heritage for current and future generations.


Yours faithfully,

David McCormick, Chairperson, Irish Wildlife Trust

Declan O Sullivan, Interim CEO, BirdWatch Ireland

Declan Murphy, Natural Environment Chair, An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland

Gerry Ryan, President of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations

Neil Foulkes, Chairman, Hedgelaying Association of Ireland

Media Contact for IWT: Padraic Fogarty - irishwildlife@iwt.ie